Anhinga

Tags: Birds, Rainforest Library

anhinga flight

The anhinga is an interesting bird that is 32-36 inches in height (a little bit smaller than a great blue heron). This bird has an impressive wingspan of up to 4 feet and weighs up to 3 lbs. Anhingas have blackish, very long, thin, necks. Their small snakelike heads with long pointed bills which make them very well suited to fishing. The female has a pale brown head, neck, and breast. Males are almost completely black. A juvenile anhinga is brownish in color to help it stay camouflaged from predators.

anhinga sitting in a tree
Anhinga sitting in a tree, Image by Dave Freeman

Where do anhingas live?

Anhingas can be found in most areas of the Western Hemisphere. Most resources credit the anhinga with living from the Southeastern United States (Florida and the Mississippi River delta) all the way down to Argentina.

Usually anhingas are found nesting and roosting in trees and bushes in freshwater swamps, lakes, sluggish streams in sheltered and murky waters. The anhinga, like other aquatic birds, loves vegetation.Although it doesn’t eat the vegetation, these birds use it for protection from predators. Near coastal areas, anhingas can be found around brackish lagoons, and in mangroves.

What does an anhinga eat?

Anhingas dive under water for prey. They spear their prey with their pointed beak like an arrow. Sometimes an Anhinga’s thrust is so powerful that it has to swim to shore and pry the fish off its beak by rubbing it against a rock. They primarily eat fish, but will also eat aquatic insects, crayfish, leeches, shrimp, tadpoles, frog eggs, and even young alligators and water snakes.

Unlike like other birds who spend most of their days in water (like a duck), an anhinga’s feathers are not waterproof. This is a good characteristic, because it allows the anhinga to dive deeper than birds with waterproof feathers. But, it also has it downfalls. When an anhinga swoops down into a body of water to capture its food, its feathers quickly become water-logged. When an anhinga is water-logged, it is unable to fly. Thus the anhinga must dry itself off by holding its wings outstretched, allowing the sun to dry the feathers before it can take off again.

Additional Images:

closeup of anhinga head and neck
A closeup of an anhinga’s head. Look at that long bill. Image by Dave Freeman
anhinga drying its wings
An anhinga needs to dry its wings off before it can fly again. Image by Dave Freeman

 

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